Here’s the long and the short of it: I hate the NHL All-Star Game and I didn’t like the NHL Global Series. But, combining the two could be the best decision the NHL has made in a long time.
Hear me out.
Judging by a little poll I ran on Twitter, I’m not the only one who’s not a fan of the All-Star Game.
Only 62 out of 346 (18%) of voters say they like the All-Star Game. A few more care only when it's near them, meaning they don't care most of the time.
Getting the league’s best players together to take part in a best-on-best competition is technically a great idea, but there are several issues with the way it’s going right now.
Everything wrong with the NHL All-Star Game
For one, the players competing aren’t really the best players at all. A random example, how can Mike Green be an All Star while Evgeny Malkin stays at home? The NHL tried to make the event interesting by adding at least one player from every team. But as you can see in the poll, it isn’t working very well.
Then there’s the fact that it’s taking place in the middle of the season, and close enough to the playoffs to injure players and heavily impact a team’s chances at the Stanley Cup. As a result, players don’t get too competitive and rather look like a bunch of friends playing some shinny for the shits and giggles, trying hard not to injure anyone. (Okay, that last part might actually be a major difference between the ASG and a game of shinny with your friends.)
In addition, the shift to a three-on-three divisional tournament has become very gimmicky. It was great as a novelty before fans got used to watching three-on-three hockey in the NHL on a daily basis; but now that we’re used to it, it’s just kind of stupid. And why is it even called the All-Star Game anymore? It’s a fricking tournament!
All in all, it’s easy to see why the NHL is struggling to create an event that’s entertaining for fans across the continent. Now, on to the second thing that isn’t working.
Everything wrong with NHL games played abroad
When I found out the NHL was going to play regular-season games in Stockholm, Sweden this season, I decided right away that I was going to be there. The second tickets went on sale, I had a set secured. And today I will say: That weekend in Stockholm was one of my highlights of the year 2017. But, frankly, the NHL game might’ve been one of the worse parts of the weekend.
First of all, the NHL is a North American hockey league. The teams come from two countries and two countries only, and it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to have them playing in a different country, let alone continent. NHL fans might not care that much because there are 82 games in a season and most people don’t see many live anyway, so it doesn’t really make a difference. But think about it – it’s stupid.
Second, the games brought two Swedish captains and a few other Swedish players home, so it was exciting for them and their fans. Likewise, German fans would be thrilled if Leon Draisaitl and his Edmonton Oilers came for a visit, or Swiss fans would be excited to see Nico Hischier and the New Jersey Devils play a game in Switzerland. But aside from that, the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators weren’t exactly top teams that got fans – or almost more importantly non-fans – overly excited.
If the goal was to grow the NHL’s popularity, I don’t think it worked. Mediocre teams playing a super-gimmicky regular-season game on a semi-random continent, luring only those into the arena that were hardcore hockey and NHL fans already.
So, let’s fix it.
Fixing both at the same time
First, let's look at what the NHL is really trying to do with the All-Star Game. Here are the top three reasons why the event is held every year:
That was definitely harder than I anticipated.
Anyway, the league wants to generate money. There really is no other reason for the event to be held, as clearly nobody cares – neither fans nor players – and it has no impact whatsoever on the outcome of the NHL season.
As to games played abroad, the NHL wants to gain international popularity and supposedly grow the popularity of the sport as a whole. That's why the Vancouver Canucks and the Los Angeles Kings played a couple of preseason games in China this season. It's why the Boston Bruins took a trip to China the previous year. And it's why they decided to play games in Europe again.
By playing the All-Star Game in Europe, you can do both at the same time.
Send the best players. Fans in Europe will be absolutely ecstatic to see the likes of Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, and Auston Matthews as well as local heroes like Erik Karlsson and Alex Ovechkin – all in one place. Plus, people who see hockey for the first time will see some of the best players in the world, giving the NHL at least a decent chance to grow the popularity of the game.
Go back to North America vs. Rest of World (a.k.a. Europe), as done between 1998 and 2002. Who cares if the Pacific Division beats the Metro or the Central beats the Atlantic? But, let me tell you, fans (and players) will care who wins when teams are divided by continents – especially if Team North America looks anything like the World Cup of Hockey edition.
The atmosphere at the 2017 Global Series games was the worst I've ever seen at a professional sports game. But 15,000 Europeans combining to cheer on their national heroes – there is no way this would happen again.
Lastly, we would pay for it. The NHL is having no issues selling merchandise with the current format in North America either, but I strongly believe they could make at least as much in Europe as they are making now.
And since playing the NHL All-Star Game in Europe every year would, again, be stupid, why not alternate? Play it in Florida one year, Sweden the next. Then Ontario and Germany and B.C. and Russia and California and Switzerland and Manitoba and the Czech Republic.
It's going to be awesome.
Who would have thought that combining two annoying things would produce something awesome?